Sep. 14, 2010 A study presented in Nature Geoscience suggests that changes in solar intensity and volcanic eruptions act as a metronome for temperature variations in the North Atlantic climate.
A research team from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen, Norway, has studied the climate in the North Atlantic region over the past 600 years using the Bergen Climate Model and the observed temperature evolution. They point to changes in the solar intensity and explosive volcanic eruptions as important causes for climate variations in the North Atlantic during this period.
The sun, volcanoes or ocean currents?
The traditional and common view is that climate variations in the North Atlantic lasting a decade and more, is governed by changes in the large-scale ocean circulation. The presented analysis supports this common perception, but only when the climate effects from changes in the solar intensity and volcanic eruptions are left out.
When the scientists include actual changes in the solar forcing and the climate effect of volcanic eruptions in their model, they find a strong causal link between these external factors and variations in the Atlantic surface temperature. In particular, the study highlights volcanic eruptions as important for long-term variations in the Atlantic climate both through their strong cooling effect, but also through their direct impact on atmosphere and ocean circulation.
Regional climate variations and ocean temperatures
A wide range of regional climate variations of high societal importance have been linked to temperature variations in the North Atlantic. These include periods of prolonged droughts in the U.S. such as the 'Dust Bowl', changes in European summer temperatures, long-term changes in the East-Asian monsoon and variations in the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. The governing mechanisms behind such long-term variations are, however, not well understood.
The study provides new insight into the causes and timing of long-term variations in the Atlantic and, consequently, for the potential for developing decadal prediction schemes for the Atlantic climate.
Warming during the 20th century
The study also shows that the observed warming in the North Atlantic during the 20th century cannot be explained by the solar and volcanic activity alone. In the model, the increased emissions of CO2 and other well-mixed greenhouse gases to the atmosphere since the onset of the industrial revolution have to be included in order to simulate the observed temperature evolution.
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- Otterå, O. H., M. Bentsen, H. Drange and L. Suo. External forcing as a metronome for Atlantic multidecadal variability. Nature Geoscience, Online: 12 September 2010 DOI: 10.1038/ngeo955
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